Report: Collective Bargaining Transforms Workers’ Lives

Report: Collective Bargaining Transforms Workers’ Lives

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Report: Collective Bargaining Transforms Workers' Lives


A powerful new report shows that collective bargaining changes work and workers’ lives for the better. According to the report, workers in Honduras with collective bargaining agreements are less likely to feel compelled to migrate or to face verbal abuse, and they earn more than workers without collective bargaining agreements. The Solidarity Center-supported report, “Bargaining for Decent Work and Beyond: Transforming Work and Lives Through Collective Bargaining Agreements in the Honduran Maquila Sector,” was published by the Center for Global Workers’ Rights.

“Collective bargaining ultimately is about transforming lives,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, who moderated a panel discussion launching the report. “Not only do better wages and working conditions result from collective bargaining, but workers report dignity and respect on the job for the first time through collective bargaining and unions.”

Report author Mark Anner, director of Pennsylvania State University Center for Global Workers’ Rights, highlighted some key findings of the report. He said: 

  • Workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement are 25.3 percent less likely to feel compelled to migrate than workers without a collective bargaining agreement.
  • Honduran garment workers with a collective bargaining agreement are 67 percent more likely to always have the choice to work overtime or not.
  • Workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement are 20.3 percent more likely to face verbal abuse.
  • Female workers without a collective bargaining agreement are 10.7 percent more likely to face sexual harassment on the job.
  • Workers with collective bargaining agreements earn 7 percent more than workers without collective bargaining agreements. 

“Workers experience tangible and intangible benefits from having collective bargaining agreements,” Anner said. He quoted some workers as saying, “We are listened to now” and “Management shows us respect as workers.”

The report documents the expansion of collective bargaining agreements in the maquila sector, following a 2009 binding agreement between workers and a garment manufacturer. As of last year, 50,625 workers, mostly in the garment industry, were covered by 21 collective bargaining agreements in the Honduran export assembly sector.  

Bader-Blau emphasized that the report shows the importance of worker-driven research, as suggested by the Solidary Center.  “Unions lead and show outcomes to the rest of the world through the power of their own stories,” she said. 

Union leaders like Eva Argueta, a leader in organizing tens of thousands of garment workers in Honduras, led the process of connecting with workers to help them share their work experiences. 

Speaking on the panel, Argueta, representative for the General Workers Central (CGT, Honduras) and Maquila Organizing Project coordinator, described the process. “The person responding is much more likely to trust someone that they know who is doing the survey,” she said. “It can be a delicate thing because of the fear the boss might find out.”

Worker-leaders interviewed a total of 387 workers with and without collective bargaining agreements. 

Other panelists included Joel López, general secretary of the Independent Federation of Workers of Honduras (FITH), Tara Mathur, field director for the Americas at the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), and María Elena Sabillón, Solidarity Center senior coordinator in Honduras. 

As Sabillón shared in her remarks, “Collective bargaining agreements allow for real progress in both labor and human rights. CBAs today go beyond economic clauses. Unions are winning clauses on gender equality, combating gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work and respecting the dignity of each person. These CBAs are validating a broader rights-based approach.”


Sri Lanka Garments: First Collective Agreement in Free Trade Zone

Sri Lanka Garments: First Collective Agreement in Free Trade Zone

The Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZ & GSEU) has become the first union to successfully bargain a collective agreement with a factory in Sri Lanka’s largest free trade zone.

The collective agreement was signed between the union and the factory, Next Manufacturing Limited, on October 22, 2021, less than a year after a trade union branch office of the FTZ & GSEU was set up at the factory.

Speaking on the achievement, Joint Secretary of the Union Anton Marcus, says factory employees joined the union in December 2020, when they launched a strike to demand payment of late bonuses. “We eventually signed a two-year collective agreement with the company with the support of trade unions and civil society organizations in the United Kingdom.”

The agreement is a first for the Katunayake Investment Promotion Zone. Prior to this, only one other factory chain–the Esquel Group, with more than 350 garment factories–had entered into a collective agreement in Sri Lanka. Both agreements were negotiated and signed with the FTZ & GSEU Union.

“Under this collective agreement, we have agreed to discuss not only the terms and conditions that affect employees but also all privileges and demands submitted by the unions from time to time, and training and development programs that workers can enroll in,” says Marcus. “They also agreed to deduct salary dues and credit the union’s account, and to allow a two-hour duty leave per month to hold committee meetings within factory premises and a half-day duty leave to hold general meetings. The union has agreed to provide two noticeboards, a cabinet and a telephone for the two branch buildings, and the first members are allowed to assemble in the workplace if required, either after work or before the commencement of work.”

This landmark victory carries an important message to all those who work in the garment industry. Collective bargaining power and worker rights can be won even in the garment sector.

The FTZ & GSEU are partners of the Solidarity Center.

New Contract for ArcelorMittal Liberia Workers Union

New Contract for ArcelorMittal Liberia Workers Union

Member of ArcelorMittal Liberia Workers Union. Credit: Solidarity Center/Christopher Johnson

Hundreds of miners, forklift drivers and other workers at ArcelorMittal in Libera recently regained the jobs they lost following the 2014 Ebola epidemic and won back important benefits as part of a new collective bargaining agreement.

The ArcelorMittal Liberia Workers Union and the company late last month entered into the two-year agreement, which continues a joint health and safety committee and opened the door to higher wages through, “comprehensive job mapping to adjust salaries where they are inconsistent with the positions,” according to the union.

The United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) helped negotiate the agreement, and signed on behalf of the ArcelorMittal Liberia Workers Union. The workers’ chief negotiator and team members on this agreement had all participated in Solidarity Center training programs and consultations with Solidarity Center staff before negotiations began.

David Sakoh, UWUL secretary general, described the agreement as “an incredible achievement” given that it was completed during a “time of crisis,” which he said included the Ebola epidemic and falling commodities prices. ArcelorMittal last year reported a loss of nearly $8 billion due to falling steel prices and write-offs in its mining business.

The United Steelworkers (USW), Solidarity Center’s U.S. union partner in Liberia programs, thanked workers and management for their efforts to ensure through the new agreement that “the interests of workers will be represented and respected.”

The workers’ first agreement with ArcelorMittal Liberia was negotiated in 2012, making the company the second major investor in Liberia to sign a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). It came four years after a groundbreaking CBA between Firestone Natural Rubber Liberia and the Firestone Agricultural Workers.

Workers in Liberia have forged a decades-long partnership with the Solidarity Center and their counterparts in the United States, during which they received skills-development trainings to hone workers’ organizing and bargaining techniques, as well as support for their efforts to combat the Ebola epidemic, prevent child labor, improve Liberian labor law, address the growth of insecure informal economy jobs and seek gender equality within their unions.


Moroccan Port Workers Win Hard-Fought Rights in New Pact

Said El Hairech, general secretary of the National Union of Port Workers, jailed for union activity in 2012 is now celebrating a new bargaining pact. Credit: ITF

Said El Hairech, general secretary of the National Union of Port Workers, jailed for union activity in 2012 is now celebrating a new bargaining pact. Credit: ITF

Dock workers in Tangiers, Morocco, successfully negotiated a collective bargaining agreement yesterday after a two-year struggle for worker rights that involved the wrongful arrest of union leaders for union activity and an international campaign to free the two men.

Significantly, the new pact with the global port operator APM Terminals includes respect for trade union rights along with a commitment to social dialogue, according to Said El Hairech, general secretary of the National Union of Port Workers (Union des Syndicats des Transports), an affiliate of the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) and of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). The agreement with APM, a global network that employs 20,300 employees in 67 countries with interests in 70 port and terminal facilities, also improves working conditions and paid time-off for trade union representatives.

“This CBA embodies what we want—dynamic economic and social objectives,” said El Hairech, who also is chairman of ITF’s Arab World Regional Conference.

In 2012, El Hairech and Mohamed Chamchati, general secretary of UMT’s Merchant Seafarers’ Union, were arrested and imprisoned before eventually being released in October and November after the ITF launched a global solidarity campaign in support of the two men. The Solidarity Center worked to raise awareness about the campaign along with the UMT, a longtime ally.

The cargo port of Tangier-Med is a flagship development project for Morocco that has attracted significant international investment, and El Hairech says the agreement makes it clear that “union and management are working towards a common goal here: ambitious economic expansion in the framework of a common perspective on social responsibility.”

Peru: Striking Workers Detained, One Beaten

Peru.Worker Assembly Camposol

Camposol employees at a company assembly. Credit: Solidarity Center

Eighteen agricultural workers in Peru were detained during a work stoppage as they protested an agro-industrial company’s failure to uphold its collective bargaining agreement, according to the Camposol Workers’ Union (SITECASA). One union leader, Carmen Silvestre Rodríguez, was beaten by the national police, and the union’s general secretary, Felipé Arteaga, has been arrested, the union said.

SITECASA members began a peaceful work stoppage March 12 at the company’s facilities in Chao, a town in the country’s northern region. They are seeking the company’s compliance with several provisions in the region–wide collective bargaining agreement reached in July 2013, including resolution of daily production quotas for field workers, payment of annual profit sharing and provision of proper uniforms, footwear and meals for workers.

Field workers, who harvest avocados, mandarin oranges, mangoes and blueberries for export, currently must harvest 60 pallets before they receive their minimum daily wage of $11. According to the union, Camposol has conditioned its willingness to negotiate these points on the union’s retraction of an article in the collective bargaining agreement that provides employment stability (an indefinite contract) for workers with four years working for the company.

Camposol S.A. is Peru’s largest producer and exporter of non-traditional horticultural products like asparagus. Approximately 14,000 workers labor on Camposol’s vast plantations throughout the country. In 2012, the U.S. Department of State’s Human Rights Report cited Camposol for interfering with workers’ right to strike after the company failed to reinstate 250 workers dismissed for participating in a strike during collective bargaining.

Read the union’s full statement (Spanish).

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